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Victorian-era entertainment still resonates today

The title character (Robin Steitz) and the fake poet (Rick DuPuy) who courts her in Victorian Lyric Opera Company’s operetta “Patience.” COURTESY PHOTOThe title character (Robin Steitz) and the fake poet (Rick DuPuy) who courts her in Victorian Lyric Opera Company’s “Patience.” COURTESY PHOTO  Gilbert and Sullivan originally intended their operetta “Patience” to lampoon the church. Concerned about possible backlash, they poked fun of poets and the Aesthetic Movement instead.

The mid-19-century movement believed in art for art’s sake and the pursuit of beauty and self-expression over the moral strictness of the Victorians, who, in turn, mocked the movement.

“‘Patience’ is about people pretending to be poets and people pretending to love poets, and a dairy maid, who can’t understand people’s attachment to poetry,” said Felicity Ann Brown, who is directing the Victorian Lyric Opera Company production of the operetta. “She’s never been in love, and doesn’t understand why people want to be.”

“Patience” doesn’t get performed often, she added, “because it’s hard to explain to audiences – the language is so poetic, and it makes fun of a movement people are not familiar with. But the music is beautiful.”

VLOC’s original mission was to present high-quality performances of light operatic works of the era. Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Trial by Jury” was the debut production.

“Since then we’ve performed all the works in the G&S canon, most of them many times over,” Brown said. “We have also branched out to other European operettas and even grand opera.”

In “Patience,” the village maidens are all enthralled by Reginald Bunthorne (played by Rick DuPuy), a moody and handsome poet who has eyes only for the simple dairy maid, Patience (Robin Steitz). Bunthorne’s poetry, though, is only a pose to attract women, and Patience is in love with her childhood sweetheart, Grosvenor (Kevin Schellhase), an actual poet she considers too “perfect” to marry.

“The character of Patience, like many Gilbert & Sullivan’s ingénues, is often played a bit stupid; that is how W.S. Gilbert wrote them – as archetypes,” said Brown. “As a 21st-century female director, I have encouraged our Patience to find more intelligence and strength in her character ... None of the dialogue has changed from the way it is written, but her delivery is not quite that of a flighty young girl as perhaps Gilbert originally intended.”

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What do Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel, and Julie Andrews have in common?

All got their start in British music halls, a type of theatrical entertainment that was popular from the early-Victorian era but declined after World War II.

Similar to American vaudeville, music halls involved a mixture of popular songs, comedy, and specialty acts.

Those who think they can’t find this British type of entertainment locally are wrong.

British Players, a theatrical troupe once affiliated with the British Embassy, has been presenting what it calls “The Old Time Music Hall” for many years.

In fact, said Malcolm Edwards, who performs with the Players often, they are now presenting their 53rd such Music Hall since the group began in the mid-1960s.

This iteration will feature a chorus, barbershop quartet, soloists, dancers, and comedy, said Edwards, who directs the show and holds the traditional British music hall role of Mr. Chairman.

“He’s like an M.C. who introduces each act and “keeps the evening flowing,” he explained.

“The Old Time Music Hall” will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI through British, American, and French songs.

“It’s a musical revue, with one song after another,” said Edwards. “There are some golden oldies but also new ones, a Can-Can scene in a Paris cafe, and a lovely medley of the songs of American composer Irving Berlin, who wrote 1500 songs.”

Of the show as a whole, Edwards said: “It’s an original. No one else [here] does it.”

“Patience” is playing June 8-17 at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, 603 Edmonston Street, in Rockville. For more information, visit: www.vloc.org.

“The Old Music Hall” runs June 8-23 at British Players, Kensington Town Hall, 3710 Mitchell Street, in Kensington. For more information, visit  www.britishplayers.org.

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